Nicaragua in times of coronavirus: Amazement and suspicion
Below we share a reflection on COVID-19 in Nicaragua. The country has seen very few confirmed cases compared to other countries in the region. While opposition figures have simply said the government is lying about the numbers, this hardly explains the difference – which goes far beyond anything the government could actually hide if it wanted to. So understanding what is happening in Nicaragua is very important.
Magda Lanuza has been an activist and friend of the Quixote Center for many years. She regularly works in Nicaragua, but is currently in El Salvador where she penned this reflection earlier this week. The oriignal in Spanish can be read here.
by Magda Lanuza in San Salvador, El Salvador, April 18, 2020
What’s going on in Nicaragua? For some, it is interesting, scandalous and impossible that the country only has 9 reported cases as of April 18, when there are already countries in the region that outpace it, such as 640 in Costa Rica. In what follows, I will explain nine differences that make what is happening in this country distinct from what is happening in the Central American region. This is not the time to take advantage of the situation and discredit political rivals, to make apocalyptic messages, or to announce miraculous remedies or recipes for cleansing and magical eating. One should keep a level head as they read this story, which will be written for centuries to come.
- Massive vaccination campaigns: The country has focused on preventive health for the past 40 years. In the 1980s, the tuberculosis vaccine – BCG – became widespread. Then in the last 10 years influenza vaccinations have become widespread, giving priority to the elderly. Meanwhile, in Honduras and Guatemala, the health system is semi-privatized and no longer supports the needs of the general populace. Prevention is better than medicine, and in health it pays double!
- Public health system: In the last 12 years, 17 new hospitals have been built, for a total of 73 public hospitals available to 6.5 million inhabitants. In addition, there are 143 Health Centers equipped for patient observation and treatment, and 1,333 health posts. All of our health systems suffer from limitations, but in Nicaragua, public investment in public health is not negligible!
- Organized and informed communities: No other country in the Central American region has the information network and training with Health Brigade members that exists in Nicaragua. There are 5,806 community health centers. From these sites, communication with health authorities is received and distributed, reaching the farthest corners of the country. “ATTENTION, if you came to our Municipality you must isolate yourself for 14 days!” So say the posters that these brigades deliver and carry in recent months.
- There are no deportations from the United States: Despite having the airports closed and making constant requests to stop deportations, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, have not stopped receiving chartered flights every day. These brothers and sisters arrive in precarious health conditions from the center of the pandemic (more than 700,000 cases and 37,309 deaths). The Guatemalan Minister of Health stated that between 50% and 75% have arrived positive. Nicaragua today does not have this problem either!
- Isolation since April 2018: Since the attempted coup in April 2018, the nascent tourist industry collapsed. We can still find on the web pages of northern embassies warning their citizens not to travel to this country. There are no flights from Iberia, British Airways, Lufthansa, Alitalia, KLM, or Air France, such as one finds in Costa Rica and Guatemala. Managua International Airport already had very few flights before COVID-19!
- 6. Strict controls for passengers and travelers: The Nicaraguan Army has dedicated itself to controlling the blind spots on both borders. Those who arrived via the airport are checked, and they are sent to social isolation and follow-up in their own homes. El Salvador, when it still had no cases, forced hundreds of people to remain in confinement centers in a single location. This measure of 30 and up to 45 days of compulsory confinement has been questioned because it is not recommended by the WHO / PAHO. The overcrowding in these centers may have contributed to the increase in imported cases (190 today). The strategies devised in each case will yield its own results!
- Tourism industry almost null: Guatemala has nearly 2.5 million tourists to year, while Nicaragua had only reached 1.7 million in 2017. In Costa Rica, tourism totaled 6.3% of GDP, while in Nicaragua, it barely reached 5% prior to April 2018. The Nicaraguan tourist industry went from receiving $840.5 million for tourism in 2017 to $544.4 million in 2018, according to official data. The virus likes to travel and they call the cases “imported”!
- Extensive territory versus population density. Nicaragua is the largest country by area in the region with 130,700 sq km and has the smallest population in the entire region with only 20 inhabitants per sq km. With almost 43% living in rural areas, compared to El Salvador which has 326 inhabitants per sq km, and Costa Rica with only 25% of its population in rural areas. The space is enviable and healthy!
- Closure of airports and borders of neighboring countries: Guatemala closed off flights on March 17. Costa Rica closed its borders (no flights) on March 19. Honduras closed its borders on March 16 (no flights) and El Salvador closed off flights on March 18. Meanwhile, COPA Airlines and AVIANCA, almost the only airlines that arrive in Managua, have suspended all their flights since mid-March. Nicaragua has already been quarantined since mid-March!
Finally, I would like to offer one more difference for those who are believers. God has protected and will continue to bless the suffering and dignified people of Nicaragua.
And so, the headlines that have come out in large international media outlets such as El País, BBC, RTVE, The Guardian and CNN, are not valid but cynical. Then they have been copied by media in the region, such as La Tribuna in Honduras on April 12, with photographs from marches in 2018.
Times of pandemic bring out the best and the worst in us. For some, their basest interests, fake news, racism, and hatred emerge and instill fear in the population. Others show their solidarity and dedication to the most helpless. Those are the Saints of these days, as Pope Francis said in his homily from Rome on Easter Sunday.